Perhaps it is his ability to talk about these spiritual longings openly, to use this particular language without irony, that draws people to Baumgartner and his work. I began to interview him by email a year prior to the performance. In person, he’s unpretentious, quick with a joke, easy to laugh, and a bit salty. In writing, his answers to my questions revealed mystical and poetic flights of
thought. These depths would surface periodically throughout the weekend, not only in his performance, but in his attention to each person there and his willingness to express why their presence was important to him.
Duffy then describes Baumgartner's paintings. Mostly of biblical images, Baumgartner's work displays an arresting balance of motion, intimacy, and compassion. Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (told in Genesis 32) first brought the artist to Duffy's attention.
Here's what she's writing about (credit: Baumgartner by way of http://imagejournal.org):
This is one of those blog posts where both the blogger's own work and her subject elicit admiration and intrigue. Duffy's sparse but passionate writing superbly fits Baumgartner's aesthetic--whether it's his paintings or his puppets. Duffy goes on to discuss several other Baumgartner paintings as well as the puppet show she and her husband drove roughly seven hundred miles to watch. She concludes with reflections on the artist's music (yes, and by the way, he's married--to a Presbyterian minister--and they have three children. Very busy!)
Longing--now that's something that ought to resonate with a broad swath of postconciliar Catholics. Dorothy Day's biography The Long Loneliness touched on the same theme, as did the novels of Walker Percy and the spiritual writings of Thomas Merton. Not surprisingly, Baumgartner's path to this flourishing aesthetic productivity involved Merton's works--and his life. A hipster before it was cool, Baumgartner--and bloggers like Duffy--recognize a spiritual vitality that debunks the casual indictments of American Christianity's moribund state.
Read it all here. And read more of Duffy's work on Image Journal, especially posts like this one. Baumgartner's blog is here.